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Niki Benders: “We consider ourselves a fresh market, not a supermarket”
Blurring in retail: What is Beej Benders?
On the broad side of the building, in the centre of Venlo, the Netherlands, the magenta logo with the white letters of Beej Benders catches the eye. A strawberry-asparagus stand, potato peeler and an inviting outdoor café are placed on the pavement in front of the shop. Automatic doors open to a covered market, including fresh isles, counters or departments with artisans. Chefs, butchers, coffee roasters and bakers are all hard at work with their products. It is cozy, lively, full of smells and colours inviting people to explore. And you will soon find yourself in the centre of the shop, the Aetplein, where you can have a bite to eat or a drink. When you leave the premises after the Beej Benders adventure with a basket filled with products, you will queue before the cash registers for a bit, just as in supermarkets. Beej Benders is a combination of shopping and leisure, but what to call a place like this?
It’s something Beej Benders is still toying with four months after opening. How to manage the expectations of customers? How to best communicate with them? Is Beej Benders a catering service or a fresh market? It’s quite tricky to put such a new development in external communication.
Beej Benders, which is Limburg for ‘At Benders’,’ started with Geert Benders’ dream. He wanted a place that focuses on the quality of food and beverages, the accompanying craft, and enjoying all the delicious things Venlo has to offer together.That’s why Geert brought together farmers, growers, chefs and fresh specialists to realise this place. They produce their own products as much as possible, such as their own roasted coffee, or they acquire these from the region. To that end, Beej Benders works closely with farmers, horticulturalists and other suppliers of fresh products. Because of these, the supply chain doesn’t have any unnecessary links, and products have low prices, both on the fresh market and at the Aetplein.
That method of working has major consequences for the fresh produce department, for which everything is focused on fresh and depending on the season and region. Fresh produce specialist Geert Braem is in charge of the department. His parents were market vendors with a fruit and vegetable stall on the Venlo market in the 1970s, and Geert spent many hours helping them. After a football career and some stops in the vegetable trade, he takes care of the assortment of Beej Benders nowadays. “At the market, pallets filled with products were unloaded in the morning. At the end of the day, you had to make sure everything was sold. That is quite a difference.” Another difference is the composition of the assortment. “We’re still trying to figure it out. We’d prefer customers coming to us because they know we have the most delicious cucumber. We are dedicated to seasonal products, but people also want to buy cucumbers in the middle of winter, so we have to find a compromise. For example, we can work with a Spanish growers who uses Dutch seeds. It’s always a question of what we will and won’t do. On the other hand, properly positioning seasonal and regional products can stimulate sales.” But, as is the case with fresh products, good plans can go wrong occasionally. Geert: “This week I have orange bell peppers, and they turn out to do very well. So I figured I’d put on a nice promotion around Easter. But when I tried to arrange that with the growers, they unfortunately turned out not to have enough product available for that. Because of the colder weather, the bell peppers didn’t grow as quickly.”
Bearing in mind
Consumers going to the supermarket, prefer to do all their shopping at once, so this is also something Geert has to bear in mind. “By now I have a broad and complete assortment, and all kinds of products with which to inspire people, such as exotics and herbs. We try to appeal to both old and young consumers. For example, the elderly enjoy buying a whole, green cabbage. Younger people prefer convenience such as pre-sliced vegetable packages. We can personally create these in the shop.”
The artisans in the shop help manage the fruit and vegetable department. Making everything yourself also has other advantages. Fruit that’s been around for a while is processed into smoothies, spotted cabbages are processed into homemade salads. This way, nothing is lost. People can also buy complete meals. The central Aetplein is always crowded around dinner time, according to Niki Benders, daughter of founder Geert. “It becomes very enjoyable then. We often see single people joining others. On Friday afternoon we have cocktail hour, it becomes really crowded.”
Now that results can be looked at, four months after opening, management has noticed that average spending on the fresh market is slightly below average. The catering service, on the other hand, is doing better than expected. “Of course, we don’t have a complete dry groceries range, so we cannot be completely compared to supermarkets,” Niki says. That’s also partially the result of the price transparency policy. Because of that, Beej Benders can’t work with a margin mix like regular supermarkets do. The Benders family should know, they also own a Plus supermarket, a few hundred metres down the road. Niki: “Supermarkets lose money on certain popular products on purpose, to attract customers. They then make a profit on other products, such as fresh produce. We don’t want to work like that at Beej Benders.” Beej Benders wants to be as transparent as possible and to work with fair prices. Where possible, they show a product’s price formation. “It’s just right. It’s the purchasing price plus a little extra,” Niki says. Looking at, for example, the price formation of an Elstar apple, more than half the price paid by the customer goes to the grower. About one-third is for Beej Benders, and 6 per cent, through VAT, goes to the government. “Some growers prefer not saying how much they make, so we don’t show the price formation for all products. And it is quite tricky, customers don’t always understand. We get comments sometimes as well, ‘you have to be better at negotiating, the farmer makes the most money…,” Geert says.
But because Beej Benders involves the suppliers in the sales, customers are getting to know the growers more and more. Growers regularly visit. Geert: “Ton Jansen from Tasty Tom, for example, will show up with a box of bumblebees to passionately tell his story.” Products Geert doesn’t get from growers are mostly supplied by the Staay Food Group.
Blurring, combining retail, catering and services, is seen as an attractive concept for retailers. With the right mix of products and services that offer choice, quality and experience, they want to attract more customers, improve customer experience, and hope customers spend more. However, catering and supermarkets are two worlds far apart. A supermarket is efficiently set up, it’s all about sales per square metre. In catering, it’s about experience, enjoyment and service.
Beej Benders managed to bring those two worlds together. To be there is a wonderful experience full of surprises. Regarding set up, it doesn’t look like a supermarket at all, there are no aisles, and there’s mood lighting. The coffee corner is a cheerful restaurant. However, there’s a catch. The definition of blurring is ‘to become difficult to see because the edges are not clear.’ Boundaries between supermarket and catering are difficult to spot at Beej Benders, but they are there, commercially. It’s challenging for the management to gain more clarity and get a grip on that.
Publication date: 6/15/2017
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